The Not-So-Sexy Relationship Dance of ‘Protest Polka’
You’re probably perpetuating this dynamic in your relationship, and it’s the biggest reason your sex life imploded into dead-bedroom status.
It sounds counterintuitive, but the truth is: Intimacy + independence = a whole ass happy, healthy relationship. The kryptonite to this though, is what relationship experts refer to as, the pursuer - distancer dynamic. Typically, when relationships are confronted with conflict and shitstorms, one person emerges as the pursuer, while the other is the distancer. The pursuer presses for connection and quick conflict resolution. The distancer, feeling overwhelmed, erects a wall and withdraws behind it. Being the type of erection you can’t go down on, the pursuer finds that the more they press in and demand reassurance, the more the distancer withdraws, responding critically to the added demands. It’s a relentless cycle that ultimately ends in deep dissatisfaction on both ends, rather than satisfying deep penetration (also, on both ends).
Not to worry, though. There’s an antidote to this pursuer - distancer dynamic that could have you bumper-to-bumper, or riding the bony express, in no time. Chalk another win up for science and the study of relationships and shit.
We have all seen this phenomenon unfold in our love-lives at one time or another. You meet someone new, the chemistry is insane, and this person feels like a breath of fresh air. This budding new romance paves the way for all those exciting and nerve-wracking ‘new relationship’ activities like deep conversations, deep feelings, and deep penetration. In short, you’re both sprung. You’ve thrown caution to the wind and you’re like, “he is perfect, we are perfect, everything is perfect.” It’s L-O-V-E, right? What could possibly go wrong? And Science comes in and is like, “hold my beer.” The next thing you know, you’re chasing this perfect person southbound on I-25 with one hand on the wheel and the other on your phone, desperately trying to reach them but they keep forwarding your calls and your stupid talk-to-text can’t make out actual words over your irrational sobs… I mean, metaphorically, speaking.
In reality though, you watch from a front-row seat as your perfect relationship in all of its perfect harmony, slowly begins to unravel and devolve into a confusing and unbalanced game of “chase or be chased,” and the more you press in, the more they push away. The more attached you are, the more detached they become. The more you want them, the less they want you. It’s an uncomfortable dance of ‘protest polka’ where you are chronically dissatisfied because your needs are not being met in the intimacy department of your relationship.
Here's the science behind this phenomenon and it comes from two renowned psychologists whose breakthrough research is the actual plug of understanding interpersonal relationships, relationship stability, and divorce prediction: Evidence-based relationship experts and co-founders of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman.
Married for over 35 years and boasting over 50 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples, the Gottman’s have taken the world by storm with their stellar work on relationship stability and impressively accurate rates of divorce prediction. People all over the world who have renounced the idea that ‘talk is cheap’ as the sorriest relationship misnomer there ever was, in favor of utilizing Gottman-created relationship principles, are now enjoying fulfilling marriages and loads of super-hot sex, pun intended.
Coined, the Pursuer – Distancer Dynamic by Drs. John & Julie Gottman, the two psychologists explain the science behind the damaging behavior of one partner provoking and maintaining the behavior of the other, as seen in this dynamic. It’s a common tactic for partners in intimate relationships to blame the other person when their intimacy needs are not being met. This is an emotional and intimate game of tug-of-war between being too close and too distant from a partner as a repetitive pattern of one person being critical and aggressive (the pursuer) and another being defensive and distant (the distancer). The Gottman’s explain that falling into this relationship pattern is one of the most common reasons couples fall out of love and into a sexual and intimate rut. Not only that, but Gottman's research reveals that couples who get stuck in this pursuer – distancer pattern in the first five years of marriage have more than an 80 percent chance of divorcing.
Life and love…it can be so unfair. One minute you’re mildly [read: wildly] obsessed with your significant other, as you gleefully bang all over every surface in your home, car, and maybe even a few semi-public places. The decline might happen slowly, or all at once. Either way, knockin’ boots gives way to knockin’ heads. The more you press in, the more they push away. You’ve had this same damn fight 146 times now, and rational reasoning (and that sweet, sweet make-up sex you used to have) flies out the window and gives way for resentment and contempt - the ultimate couples’ cockblock and cliterferance; and any attempts to reconcile after this stage are just a day late and a dollar short.
All hope is not lost, though. The Gottman’s explain that healthy relationships thrive on a delicate balance of autonomy and shared intimacy. What does that mean? What is the antidote to this relationship death dynamic? Well, it might surprise you to know, it’s true what they say. Everything you need to know in life, you learned in Kindergarten: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be kind, display empathy for your partner’s needs, say please and thank you, and take responsibility for your part in this negative cycle, and initiate and respond to sexual advances from your partner (touch the booty, kiss the booty, love the booty). In short, be the change you wish to see in your relationship and stop magnifying the wrong things. Abandon your ego, swallow your pride, go on a fight-break, and welcome a start-over/do-over with your significant other. Sometimes you must hit the reset button and wave the white flag, before you can hit the sheets and wave your freak flag.
(And honestly, those two assholes, my ‘ego’ and ‘pride’, can go kick rocks…I don’t see them showing out like my fiancé does when we make-up after a fight, when he bends me like a pretzel and does that thing with his tongue that I like, that sends me to the moon and back a thousand times in one night!)